Prickly pear - Opuntia - Cactaceae family - How to care for and grow your prickly pear

Prickly pear - Opuntia - Cactaceae family - How to care for and grow your prickly pear



The fruits of the prickly pear are known all over the world and used both in human nutrition and in livestock feeding.

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The prickly pear is multiplied mainly by cutting and secondarily by seed.

If you choose to multiply the plant by seed, remember three things: the first is that by substituting genetic variability, there is no certainty of having plants equal to the mother plant (only with multiplication by cuttings can you have this certainty); the second that they have a long juvenile phase and a fruiting that begins after 2-3 years and the phase of full production not before the seventh year; the third that the young seedlings are slow-growing.


The best time to do the cutting varies from area to area: the important thing is that it is a period in which there is no danger of heavy rains, between the end of spring and late summer if planted outdoors. In any period of time in this interval if planted in pots then in a protected environment.

The cuttings are nothing more than the blades that must be removed using a sharp and disinfected knife. It is preferable to use a cladode of at least two years with two or three cladodes of one year.

Sprinkle broad spectrum fungicidal powder on the cut surface and let it dry for ten days or more to heal the wound and then repot in soil as indicated in the "Repotting" paragraph at a depth of about half or 3/4 of their length in so as to ensure its hold in small jars of about 8-10 cm in diameter. If the installation is done in full ground, use the same precautions only that the blades plant them slightly inclined with respect to the prevailing wind in order to have the least possible resistance to the wind.

The pot should be kept dry (same thing if planted outdoors) and at a temperature of about 10-16 ° C and possibly heat the lower part of the pot, for example by placing it on a concrete slab exposed to the sun or in any case on a floor. hot.

Once the first roots start to appear (usually after a few weeks) it means that it has rooted at that point treat it as an adult plant.

Opuntia reproduced by cutting begins to produce flowers and therefore fruits after the second-third year of life.

If you want to make a real implant, the technique is the same and you have to adopt 5-6 m along the row and 5-14 m between the rows as the sixth of the implant.


The multiplication by seeds in opuntia is preferably carried out in autumn.

The seeds are washed very well to completely remove the pulp of the fruit and then leave to dry. It is preferable that they are disinfected in water with very diluted bleach (10%). Since the seeds have a thick cuticle, it is best before sowing to place them in a basin with very hot water (about 80 ° C) and leave them until the water returns to room temperature and overnight.

This technique is called "scarification" and serves to make the outer part of the seed less hard and therefore allow it to germinate more quickly. There are other methods such as manual incision or the treatment of semen with chemical products but they are more risky if you are not experienced so it is better to use the technique of immersion in hot water.

The seeds thus prepared are distributed evenly on a soil formed by a part of soil per seed and one part of vermiculite or sand.

You can use pots that are not too tall or multiplication trays leaving a space of at least 2 cm between the edge of the pot and the ground. Then immerse the pot in the water until the soil is well wet. Let the excess water drain and arrange the seeds on the surface of the soil evenly and possibly use a piece of wood to bury them or sprinkle a little soil on top.

The tray with the seeds should be kept at high temperatures around 25-30 ° C and making sure that the soil always remains moist and in full light.

The seeds take from a few days to several months to germinate depending on the species, the cultivar and the state of the seed.

When the seedlings have reached 5-10 cm in height they are transplanted into the pots. Only when they have formed the second blade can they be transplanted outdoors but only after there is no more risk of frost as they are still sensitive to low temperatures.


Like all Cactaceae, are not plants particularly prone to diseases.In their case perhaps it is more correct to speak of physiopathies, that is to say diseases caused not due to pathogens but to poor cultivation techniques.

The plant does not bloom, it takes on strange shapes

If it has these symptoms and stretches and turns a light green color, it means there is little light.
Remedies: place it in a brighter position.

The green parts discolour and appear as "hollowed out"

This symptom is usually due to too little irrigation. If we stay several months without watering, especially in summer, the plant runs out of all the water contained in the tissues and therefore appears to be emptied.
Remedies: not always if you reach this stage it is possible to recover it, in any case, it is worth giving a little more attention with the right irrigations.

The green parts appear browned

If the prickly pear starts to show this symptom, as if the plant had burned and you notice small cracks, it means that the temperatures are too low.
Remedies: arrange it in a more suitable place.

White spots, with a cottony appearance on all green parts

If you notice this symptomatology you are surely in the presence of scale insects.

Remedies: remove them with a cotton swab dipped in denatured alcohol. If the plants are large and planted outdoors, use a specific pesticide available from a good nurseryman.

The plant shrivels and becomes limp

This symptom in cacti is an indication of too much watering.

Remedies: unfortunately, when this stage is reached, it is not always possible to recover the plant. In any case, remove it from the pot with all the earthen bread from the pot and leave it in the air so that the soil dries quickly. Check the roots and eliminate any rotten ones by cutting them for at least 1 cm above the rotten area with a sharp and disinfected scissors (possibly over a flame), sprinkle the surface of the cut roots with a wide-spectrum fungicide powder and then repot. Wait at least two weeks before watering again and especially be more careful in the amount of water you administer.


The genus includes numerous species that produce edible fruits and germ-nutrients used in human nutrition and as fodder plants, especially in Latin American countries. Among these certainly theOpuntia ficus indicait is the most widespread and used. Edible fruits in Spanish are calledtuna while inedible ones, obtained from some species, are calledxoconoxteles.

In Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California, the fruits are not only consumed fresh but also boiled in water or dried to be stored for the winter. From their pulp different products are obtained: for example in Mexico they are obtained queso de tuna a mustard, the melcocha a jam, thecolonies an alcoholic drink, the tuna pasas dried fruit, themiel de tuna a syrup.

In addition to fruits, cladodes (shovels) younger than 10-15 cm in length are also used, both as legumes and to prepare other dishes.

They are excellent forage plants (using the varieties without thorns or if you use the varieties with thorns these are first eliminated by various methods) used in countries where, in periods of drought, it is not possible to grow other food for livestock. They have a low nutritional value as they are poor in crude proteins, fibers, phosphorus and sodium while they are rich in carbohydrates, lipids and vitamins and above all water that meet the needs of livestock. Therefore, prickly pear plants, integrated with other forages, are an excellent food for livestock.

From the seeds you also get a edible oil unsaturated with a high percentage of linoleic acid and a low percentage of linolenic acid, thus falling into the same category as disoja seed, sunflower and corn oils.

In the past the Spanish colonizersthey highly regarded this plant because a cochineal nested on it, the Dactylopius cacti (photo below), from whose body the carminic acid was extracted and used as a dye for fabrics, in the food industry, in the pharmaceutical industry and as a chemical reagent.

From several studies carried out cisi it is noticed that the cladodes of the prickly pear, due to the high content of fiber and mucilage, have a hypoglycemic and hypocholerestemic action.

From an ecological point of viewit is considered a pioneer plant as it improves the quality of poor soils where other species could not survive. In fact, it carries out both a purely physical action, that is to say simply shading the soil, therefore lowering its temperature and therefore decreasing the decomposition speed of the organic substance present, and a chemical one thanks to the presence of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots.

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Video: Cara Semai Biji Cactus